Judicial self-delusion on a global scale

18 Comments

“Britain’s worst paedophile,” we learned earlier this month, “who abused up to 200 Malaysian children and posted videos of his depraved acts online has been given 22 life sentences.”

The Daily Mail version of a news story splashed globally said “Richard Huckle, from Ashford in Kent, admitted an unprecedented number of offences against children aged between six months and 12 years from 2006 to 2014.”

The judge, Peter Rook QC, was quoted: “You had become consumed with paedophilia. Your life revolved around your obsession with your own sexual gratification”.

We heard that as Huckle, aged 30,  was taken down to the cells, a woman sitting in the public gallery yelled: “A thousand deaths is too good for you.”

The Mail’s Richard Spillett reported that Huckle had “masqueraded as a devout Christian, photographer and English teacher to prey on poor children in Kuala Lumpur over nine years.

A stream of pictures and videos of his rapes and assaults on children were shared with paedophiles worldwide through an encrypted website.”

Huckle, it was said,  committed offences in orphanages and care homes in Malaysia and Cambodia, including “rape and assault against up to 200 pre-pubescent children as young as six months old”.

Britain’s worst paedophile? If it were clear he had been violently raping infants I wouldn’t dispute the claim, especially if the guy had also been a sadistic child murderer. But this is surely not a scenario where a large penis has been rammed into a small orifice, and there is mercifully no need for post-mortems. There is no hint in the court reports that any of his acts were violent, coerced or physically injurious.

On the contrary, Richard Huckle appears to have been welcome in the communities of the South East Asian countries where he lived. He didn’t just ““masquerade” as an English teacher: he obviously was an English teacher; there is nothing to suggest he was a less than sincere Christian either.

We will come back later to the unfortunate Mr Huckle, after switching our focus to another recent news story from the same region, the Philippines. The Guardian’s main headline was “How child sexual abuse became a family business in the Philippines”, with a sub-heading “Tens of thousands of children believed to be victims of live-streaming abuse, some of it being carried out by their own parents”. The United Nations is reported as saying that in some areas, entire communities live off the business.

There is the usual hyperbolic bollocks about the scale of the money involved and talk of children being “made to perform around the clock” as though they are sweat shop slaves – places that are really abusive but which go unregulated because global corporations like GAP, Zara and Primark profit from them. Anyway, despite all the spin designed to create a false impression, this was a big story – literally so, as the Guardian’s account ran to well over 2,000 words.

Yet the tabloids ignored it. Why? Because it was complicated. It was nuanced. Unlike the Huckle case, this one could not be made to fit the simple Evil Monster narrative. But it is precisely in the detail and the nuance that the real significance of the story is to be discerned. So let’s look at that.

We are told an undercover agent infiltrated an impoverished village pretending to be a Filipina sex worker earning her living in Japan. It was cover that enabled her to become friendly with the villagers and their children without arousing suspicion. After discovering the kids were doing webcam sessions police raided the village. This was back in 2011. At least one family were caught with their pants down, and that’s more than a metaphor: three girls were naked on a bed while their mother was typing on a keyboard in the same room, where a live webcam feed on the computer screen showed the faces of three white men watching the action.

After the raid, the family was broken up: all six children were taken away from their home and into a “rescue centre”.

And this is where we get to the heart of the real story: the kids did not feel they had been “rescued” at all. Instead, they felt betrayed by the undercover agent they thought was a friend. While the mother was jailed thanks to having been caught red-handed, and still languishes in prison five years later, the children “proved unwilling to incriminate their parents”.

The police were quite candid. They said they thought the children would welcome the operation, only to discover they were very much mistaken. Referring to the oldest child, the undercover agent herself admitted the girl felt betrayed, saying  “I know that she is angry with me”.

At the “rescue” centre, the six children – three boys and three girls –  “appeared oblivious to the fact that they had been exploited”. The three-year-old, it was reported, continued to do “sexualised dancing” in front of other children. A psychologist said that the eldest child, a boy of 16, was in shock after the arrest, but not from the abuse: “He was quite traumatised by the rescue operation.”

The Guardian story continues:

The two younger daughters had no idea that the abuse was anything but normal. “They said it was a business in the neighbourhood. It seemed natural to be involved in this as the other children were doing it,” she said. Police found that it was the children who first heard about live-streaming as a money maker when playing with their friends.

While the children have flourished – on the wall are photos of them, the two eldest beaming while wearing graduation hats and gowns – they are still unable, five years later, to understand the crime…

…The social workers, doctors, police, legal team and psychologists working with the children initially assumed they were trying to protect their parents out of love. But it became apparent there were other reasons for them holding back, especially the eldest.

And in therapy sessions, the eldest boy said their lives had changed for the better since they started the “shows”: the family had more money, they could eat at the local fast food chain Jollibee, and their mother could stop working in a factory.

Slowly, what had happened became apparent. “They saw the neighbours making money. They suggested it to their parents,” the prosecutor said. And at 13, it was Nicole who spoke to the paedophiles online, not her mother.

There were even times when the children did it without their parents present, the prosecutor said.

Bearing in mind this active engagement of the children as free agents, it’s time to get back to Mr Huckle.

Based on the grooming theme, and on the so-called abuse of trust, James Traynor from the National Crime Agency said: “Richard Huckle spent several years integrating himself into the community in which he lived, making himself a trusted figure.”

Now the thing is, you don’t get to be integrated and trusted unless people know and like you, including the children. We are told that Huckle dreamed of marrying one of his victims so they could jointly become foster carers for children. That was never going to happen without the continuing support of the community and of a woman who wanted to marry him. It is not as though he was betraying anyone’s trust as a fraudster does, conning them out of their money and making life worse. He was not making life worse. In the children’s view he was making it better, and who can really argue with them? Well-heeled western do-gooders who have no idea how tough and limiting Third World poverty can be?

Looking at it realistically, it would also be naïve to assume he was deceiving anyone. You cannot betray trust if a community already knows what is going on, as is clearly the case in the Philippines where families are actively involved on a significant scale. Huckle claimed in his own defence that sexual involvement with children was “endemic” in the region. The judge brushed this aside as being no excuse, but he did not deny the fact of the matter; he preferred to turn a blind eye, but that is no reason for us to do so.

The judge was also scornful of a 60-page manual Huckle had written and planned to publish online called Paedophiles and Poverty: Child Love Guide, which is said to have been about how to select deprived victims and avoid detection. The judge described it as a “truly evil document”, saying “It speaks volumes about the scale of your self-delusion, describing your conduct as child love.”

As we have just seen, though, it was the judge, not the defendant, who set his face against the facts. He is the one deluding himself if he thinks that children’s sexual “innocence” is anything more than a self-serving myth concocted by those who seek to control them. He deludes himself, too, if he dismisses Kind people as necessarily unkind and incapable of loving children, especially when the evidence suggests, as in Richard Huckle’s case, that he was well liked by the kids and was well regarded in the communities where he lived and worked for many years.

Not that Heretic TOC is suggesting Huckle should be imitated. Absolutely the opposite. The message from the courts is loud and clear: do as he did and you will be crucified, no matter what the rights and wrongs of the matter. The sentence, after all, was savage. Decades, at least, will pass before this tragically-fated young man has any hope of release.

Nor should we ignore the fact that his “how to” guide was so excoriated by the court. One shudders to think what the judge would make of Heretic TOC’s heresies. There is a big difference, though: it looks possible that the Child Love Guide could well have been interpreted in some quarters as inciting its readers to break the law; and so, once it was published, that could have amounted to grounds for a criminal prosecution in itself. This site, by contrast, much as we wish to see radical changes in our culture and law, emphatically rejects the view that the present laws should be defied. Apologies for finishing on this dreary but necessary note.

 

FROM BREXIT TO REGREXIT IN ONE DISMAL DAWN

Within sterling and the stock market plummeting and voices of alarm coming thick and fast from all around the planet, dawn had scarcely broken on the result of the Brexit referendum before the demos was thrown into doubt.

Suddenly the sovereign people’s distrust of the experts was turned on themselves, as they woke up to the awful possibility that they might have got it wrong. What a shame most of them hadn’t read Heretic TOC, where they would have learned that the people are always wrong!

Proof of the unpreparedness of many to make such a momentous and complicated decision was all too apparent, albeit too late: the most frequent Google search was the alarmingly basic question “What is the EU?” Many tweeted to say they hadn’t thought their vote would be all that important, what with so many other people voting! They had just wanted to tell the politicians they were fed up. It hadn’t occurred to them they might actually win, and now they regretted it!

This Buyer’s Remorse, or Regrexit as it was quickly dubbed, even appeared to be shared by politicians leading the Leave campaign. Instead of simply obeying the will of the people and getting on with getting out, the ruling elite on both sides of the great debate are effectively saying hang on a minute (or a few years), let’s not be hasty. Maybe we can fudge things a bit (or a lot) so that we can somehow keep free access to the EU market while also quietly ditching our promise to the people that immigration would be controlled. Plus ça change…

 

 

Towards the aetiology of paedophobia

120 Comments

Heretic TOC began an exploration of deep waters recently in Whither the punitive state?, which delved into some fundamental questions about the kind of society we are and how we might live better. A lively debate ensued. One contributor, Lensman, outlined a green vision of the future. As I requested, he now takes this further in the first of two guest blogs. He begins with an analysis of our present situation, especially the economic context of paedophobia*; his second piece will set us upon a Deep Green course.    

Lensman tells me he is a “psychogeographer” and artist, whose work is informed by such issues as stigma, alienation and longing. He is an avid reader, music-lover, an intrepid explorer of the shabby edges of cities, friend to fungi and an all-round culture vulture. He writes the occasional short story, essay, and poem. Growing up in a political family taught him early on the value of discussion, debate and critical thinking. At the same time, a childhood spent living in, playing in and exploring wild places has nurtured a life-long interest in natural history, science and ecology.

 

My first inkling that not all societies were paedophobic came in my mid-teens when I read Humbert Humbert’s observation of how “Lepcha old men of eighty copulate with girls of eight, and nobody minds”. Later, as a student, I read accounts of sex-positive societies in the writings of anthropologists such as Bronislaw Malinowski, Margaret Mead and Claude Levi-Strauss, and the observations of explorers such as Captain Cook’s in Tahiti. More recently I have discovered the “Growing Up Sexually” corpus: a compendious thesaurus of the sex-lives of children in a wide variety of cultures.

From which it seems clear that whilst there have been many societies that have accepted child sexuality and child-adult sexual relationships, none of these have been capitalist.

Working out why should be a priority for the heretical community, since how can we propose a cure without some understanding of the disease? Indeed, so long as we don’t address the aetiology of paedophobia we’re tacitly conceding that the problem lies in us, not in those who fear us.

I will argue that   paedophobia is an unintended consequence of a range of economic factors that occur under what, for brevity’s sake, I’ll call “Capitalism” (but which might include Industrialism, Urbanism, Consumerism, and even Industrial Communism).

However, saying that capitalism causes paedophobia is a bit like saying puberty causes pregnancy: the grain of truth in the statement is overwhelmed by the many contingencies which separate the cause from the effect. The challenge is to fill in the gaps: what exactly connects an abstraction like “capitalism” to the attitude of someone who refuses to let his daughter walk to school because of Stranger Danger?

“Attitudes” may be understood as attempts by individuals to make sense of the “givens” of their world, their culture and their personal circumstances. Living in harmony with these “givens” generally makes for an easier, more successful life. Consequently “attitudes” will tend to converge according to a population’s circumstances, culture and interests.

The following are some of the “givens” of capitalism that tend towards paedophobic attitudes.

The Nuclear Family

The nuclear family solves capitalism’s need for a mobile and flexible work force. Under consumer capitalism a wage earner may have to change job and move house three, four or five times during his working life, taking his family with him. A cheaper and easier task if that family is small.

Nuclear families tend to implant themselves into a “place” but not into a “community”. Neighbours are often barely on nodding acquaintance with each other and may change so often that efforts to socialise may seem hardly worth the trouble. The child has to adapt and form its personality in relation to only one or two people. Consequently, parents become as emotionally dependent on their children as the children are on their parents, creating very intense, exclusive relationships and a strong sense of possessiveness in the parents. The child has only “one basket” in which to put all its “emotional eggs”. A considerable burden is placed on very few relationships, especially in single-parent families, which are becoming all the more common as the nuclear family is put under more stress.

Children can’t opt out of the parent-child relationship as they can with non-familial relationships.

There is greater asymmetry in the child-parent relationship than with non-familial adults. Many paedophiles who are also parents will have experienced the different quality of relationship one shares with a child-friend and with one’s own children – the former, at its best, feels “equal”, the latter not.

A society’s predominant family structure will deeply entrench and perpetuate its conception of childhood since the family is where we learn our most fundamental concepts of kinship, love, intimacy, privacy, authority, etc.

Where have the children gone?

Over the past three or four decades children have disappeared from public spaces. Allowing one’s child to roam unsupervised is now considered to be a sign of bad parenting, and children who enjoy this freedom are demonised as “feral”. The growth of suburban housing means that children’s outdoor play now takes place in private gardens, fenced-off from the wider community.

This is understandable when one considers the extent to which cars have appropriated public space making it dangerous and unpleasant. This has led to many children only ever venturing into public space in a car, their parents trading their child’s security against an increased danger to others (the “school-run” paradox).

There are also major changes in the nature of Play: the explosion of screen-based home entertainment, and a children’s leisure industry that is usually indoors and highly supervised.

The nuclear family’s tendency to miniaturise and sequester resources has impacted on communal resources such as village water pumps, traditionally, and more recently libraries, markets, laundrettes, cinemas, concerts, playing fields, public transport, etc.

As children (and adults) have disappeared from public spaces so has the fear of public spaces increased – adults are now as afraid of interacting with unknown children as children are of unknown adults.

Probably the most significant factor is the exclusion of children from the workplace. Pre-industrial families expected children to contribute their labour to the family finances, and it was often necessary for children as young as six to work in the same factories as their parents to make ends meet. Child-labour has more or less disappeared from the West.

Education

Schools are a major factor in removing children from the community. School reflects wider society in that all its child-adult interactions are defined by the adult’s role, providing little opportunity for intense, free, emotional, engagement with the child, this now being the exclusive preserve of the nuclear family (it could be argued that teachers, when in loco parentis, are subject to the same incest taboo as applies to biological parents).

Capitalism’s demand for a highly educated workforce, based on rapid technological changes, the growing workplace requirement for interpersonal and communication skills and the reduced number of unskilled jobs (due to outsourcing to poorer countries), has led to a prolongation of education. The UK has seen a ten-fold increase in participation in higher education between 1950 and 2000.

Given that one of the criteria of “adulthood” is “entry into the world of work”, this contributes to a prolongation of the concept of childhood (could the current panic about “campus rape” and “enhanced consent” be a sign of the infantilisation of this age-group? That society feels, deep down, that the current age of consent is too low?)

Privacy

With increasing affluence there’s been both a steady increase in the size of homes and a decrease in the size of the family. This has largely put an end to communal sleeping. Till recently children would share a bedroom, and sometimes a bed, into late childhood. All but the wealthiest families would sleep communally. This was one of the causes of the moral panic surrounding slum housing in 19th century Britain: reformers realised that such sleeping arrangements carried with them a high risk of “premature sexualisation”.

The Innocent Child archetype

The above factors create a situation where the only intense relationships children can have with adults are with their parents (and other adults to whom the incest taboo applies, such as grandparents, uncles, older siblings etc).

The de-sexualisation of children is essential if the incest taboo is not to disrupt the nuclear family. The intimacy of parenthood combined with the authority, control and exclusivity parents hold over pre-adolescent children means that if children were to be understood as sexual it would create too many desires, conflicts, jealousies, anxieties, etc. for the family to function. The pressure cooker that is already the nuclear family would explode.

As there are no outlets for children’s sexuality other than with parents or siblings it is better that such sexuality be discouraged and repressed. Likewise, teenagers’ sexuality only becomes tolerated once they have the social skills and independence to take that sexuality outside the orbit of the home.

There are, of course, a child’s peers. Inter-child sexuality has been grudgingly tolerated in capitalist societies during periods of enlightenment, though usually defused by labelling it as “play” or “curiosity” rather than “desire” or “pleasure”. However consumer capitalism seems to be withdrawing even that tolerance.

The question is whether a paradigm which conceives of the child as actively sexual can work in the closed, emotionally intense context of the nuclear family, especially a child who, for the first six or seven years of its life, is not quite old enough to have entirely internalised sexual shame. The Innocent Child archetype protects the family, not the child.

It may also be that parents subconsciously fear their child’s reciprocal and exclusive love may be diverted towards someone who, not restricted by the incest taboo, is able to offer a kind of love forbidden the parents. A fear maybe that finds its most potent embodiment in “the paedophile”.

The Consumer Child

It’s no coincidence that virulent paedophobia emerged in the UK in the late 70s and 80s – a period when, under Thatcherism, a paradigm shift occurred in the way capitalism understood itself:  the UK became a “property-owning democracy” and “citizens” were replaced by “consumers”. Manufacturing industries were symbolically defeated and emasculated, having already lost a great deal of their importance through increased outsourcing of work to poorer countries and importation of manufactured goods.

In the previous decade capitalism had seemed in crisis: the essential needs of the family (food, clothing, housing) were being met by a smaller and smaller proportion of the family’s income and the necessity of the “work and spend” paradigm was increasingly called into question – most notably by the counter-cultural movements of the 60s.  (Statistics for the USA show that in 1901 80% of an average family’s income was spent on food, housing and clothing; by 2003 only 49%.)

Capitalism’s dependence on growth meant that it had to employ some motivation other than “necessity” for keeping us working and spending.  Consumerism achieves this by getting us to work as much for the satisfaction of fabricated “wants” as “needs”.

Children are first of all consumers through the intermediary of their parents. But children will also become the consumers of tomorrow and so must be educated into the right mind-set. This process starts early – and is probably most visible in how, early in the 19th century, Christmas changed from being a festival of communal feasting to one centred round the buying and giving of gifts. Can anyone who has witnessed the frenzied avidity of children in the run-up to Christmas doubt its effectiveness as a teacher of consumer values?

Our culture, dense with marketing, advertising, product placement and countless other strategies, creates a paradigm in which activities connected with consumption are labelled as “cool”, whilst low-consumption, community or nature-based activities (twitching, train-spotting, reading, nature study, scouting, etc.) are labelled as “nerdy”, “sad” or “uncool”. A child learns that fulfilment comes from what one owns, not from one’s relationships with others and the world.

And the most potent marketing tool is, of course, sex. Commercial popular culture, like the tobacco industry, whilst paying lip-service to age-limits in the targeting of its products, knows that the game is won by those who “catch them early”.

It may seem odd for a paedophile to appear to be criticising the sexualisation of children. Well, I’d argue that consumer sexualisation is a distortion of child sexuality: targeting especially little girls and teaching them that they are attractive in proportion to how much they spend on, or have done to, themselves.

The Toddlers-in-Tiaras child is a telling archetype of this – a child who has adopted the most extreme sexual paraphernalia of womanhood. This archetype is in conflict with the more established Innocent Child archetype outlined in the previous section, the conflict mitigated by it being a sexuality of display and disguise, which demands spectators rather than participants.

(Compare this to another archetype: the Wild Child – Huckleberry Finn, Pippi Longstocking, the children in Sally Mann’s Immediate Family – whose identities come from their relationships to others and to nature, whose nails are more likely to be broken than manicured, whose clothes, if worn at all, are torn and dirty from falling out of trees and playing in the mud.)

This conflict between the Innocent Child archetype and the need to access new markets and educate new consumers seems inherent within consumer capitalism and creates a perception amongst parents that their children are being “sexualised” against their (the parents’) will by forces beyond their control (popular culture, television, internet, fashion and pornography). Such fears, rather than being directed against something as nebulous as an “economic system” (an economic system that most adults are otherwise happy with and culturally embedded in) are perhaps more easily projected onto paedophiles.

Conclusion

At the start of this essay I suggested that, for the heretical community, working out why paedophilia is so feared and reviled must be the first step towards finding a stratagem which might lead to an improvement in our situation, and that of children.

My hypothesis has been that a society’s acceptance of child sexuality is a function of (1) how well integrated its children are within a wide-ranging communal life; and (2) what proportion of adult-child emotional relationships involve adults covered by the incest taboo. Paedophobia is a result of societies where children are effectively isolated in relationships that thrive only if those children are considered as asexual.

A non-systematic perusal of the Growing up Sexually corpus seems to confirm the general drift of this hypothesis, whilst supplying enough counter-examples to undermine any hopes of it being a complete explanation. Undoubtedly, culture has a part to play: have contemporary Tahitians preserved anything of the sex-positive attitudes that Captain Cook witnessed? If not, were they lost because of the imposition of Western values or because of the economic and structural changes colonisation brought with it? Such questions arise at every turn.

But I hope the explanation I have outlined represents a start, or at least indicates the kind of questions we should be asking.

If all the above factors do amount to an explanation for paedophobic attitudes in the West, if paedophobia is deeply embedded in the most fundamental structures of our society, then the question becomes “what next?” Does a fundamental restructuring of society have to take place before things improve?

I suspect that the solution already exists amongst the political options available in the West, (though, understandably, the pro-child-sexuality aspect of it is one that has been suppressed in recent decades). That solution is, I believe, to be found in the Deep Green vision of society and economics.

 

* Lensman and I are both uneasy about this term. It implies that those who have a problem with paedophilia are not right in the head. This may actually be true to the extent that fear of paedophilia is indeed irrational; but, like comparable forms of pathologising (“homophobia”, “Islamophobia”), it runs the risk of dismissing people’s views without addressing their arguments; it may amount merely to name-calling against those who disagree with us. The word is used here and in Lensman’s article really just as a convenient shorthand for “hyper-hostile anti-paedophilia”, an attitude fostered by a set of social and economic conditions rather than an individual’s mental illness.

 

 

 

Tweedledumbs and Tweedledumbers

42 Comments

As I expected, Heretic TOC’s Lewis Carroll blog last time proved controversial. I have held back from responding in any detail to specific points of criticism in part because I felt I should avoid my own contribution becoming too much “the dominant discourse”, as it were. I am delighted to say this restraint has been richly rewarded with a number of interesting comments that have already appeared. There was also a blog-length one by “Sylvie” of such quality it cried out to be used as a guest blog, and it accordingly makes its debut below. This is Sylvie’s second guest piece, her first having been “We fight for more than Love or Pleasure”, last year.

This latest article is especially valuable as Sylvie is the author of two academic theses on Lewis Carroll and writes with obvious authority.

 

It seems that, as the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland continue, we are likely to find Lewis Carroll mentioned over and over again in newspapers, at literary events, and all over the Internet. I welcome this, as any discussion around this wonderfully complex personality never fails to thrill me. Unfortunately, it seems that we are not going to mark 2015 with white stones. Those who hope, as l very much do, to finally read an unbiased portrait of the author of the Alice books are doomed to be disappointed this year as well.

Were it not for the fact that I am well acquainted with the character of the man, I’d have good reasons to lose my sanity over the mostly absurd theories revolving around him. There are seemingly two opposite factions nowadays: the very indignant “Lewis Carroll-Absolutely-Not-A-Paedophile” one, and the apparently nonchalant “Dark-Side-Of-The-Repressed-Paedophile-Lewis Carroll”. Whereas these two battling factions claim to be distinct, truth is that they are very much alike in their lack of insight into the nature of paedophilia: they are Tweedledumbs and Tweedledumbers on the subject. Even more poignantly, they strive in controversy over a non-existing man: the real Lewis Carroll – whom they claim to appreciate but evidently fail to fully grasp – was neither dark nor sinister, nor was he repressed.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was not, in many respects, a repressed man. On the contrary, he had come to terms with himself, perhaps not without difficulty, as he had very likely been on his own on the challenging journey to self-discovery. He must have arrived at such realisation possibly after much soul-searching, as is usual when one has a rich and complex inner life. He was not “strange”. He had his quirks, true, but that’s because he was somehow naturally unconventional – in his mind first and foremost, and therefore in his outer demeanour, interests, and hobbies. I believe he was at peace with his conscience; that is why he would not welcome interference from people, whether parents (whenever he thought they were being unnecessarily cautious) or anyone who would raise an eyebrow.

When word of his “friendships” reached his sister Mary, she wrote a concerned letter to her brother. Charles’ reply (21 September, 1893), shuts the mouths, l believe, of those who accuse him of being “sinister”, and reveals instead the character of the man as well as his integrity:

“The only two tests l now apply to such a question as the having some particular girl-friend as a guest are, first, my own conscience, to settle whether I feel it to be entirely innocent and right, in the sight of God; secondly, the parents of my friend, to settle whether l have their full approval for what l do.”

He was so free from repression that he claimed the right to pursue whatever friendships he liked best: not only with children but, for instance, with adult unmarried women as well, which may not have appeared as terribly appropriate at the time. He would happily mingle with artists and actresses. He was always looking out for like-minded people.

He took decisions that were coherent with his lifestyle: he took up photography and experimented with it as long as it thrilled him. He gave it up, not because of wagging tongues but more likely because technological advancement had made photography a more complex and burdensome hobby, and he presumably no longer wished to commit that much, in his later years, to something he felt he had experimented enough with.

His decision not to proceed to the priesthood cannot be accounted for convincingly by his speech impediment, which he had managed to control to a certain extent through discipline and professional help; a better explanation is that his beliefs developed as his life progressed, taking him beyond his Anglican faith towards a more ecumenical attitude. You couldn’t hold him down; he refused to be restricted.

In a letter to his niece, Edith Dodgson (March 8, 1891), he wrote:

“A truth that is becoming more and more clear to me as life passes away –- that God’s purpose, in this wonderful complex life of ours, is mutual interaction, all round. Every life…bears upon, or ought to bear upon, the lives of others.”

He had had a religious, conservative upbringing, but despite being traditional in many respects, he was never narrow-minded, or regressive. Far from being repressed or frustrated, he had a disposition that we could positively define as all embracing. Whereas the dicta of the established Church would not easily condone such an intellectual stance, he positively included dissenters and sinners into the picture.

Likewise, as a result of the same independent spirit, he did not remain a bachelor because “it was part of his contract with Christ Church”, as it has been perhaps too naively stated. Had he considered marriage feasible for himself, it is safe to assume that, in the end, he would have married. It had been clear to him, from an early age that married life was simply not for him. Not because he was uncomfortable around adults, or he failed to be appreciative of the many benefits of marriage, but likely because he may have recognised married life as incompatible with his lifestyle, and perhaps, with himself as a man – what he was, what he could or could not give. He longed to maintain a life that was not strictly bound by domestic obligations; a life that enabled him to be free to pursue interests and hobbies, and take up things and dismiss them, and change opinion and route.

The very strong point in Tom’s blog is, in my opinion, the affirmation that Dodgson’s sophistication was not at all incompatible with paedophilia. That’s because it is rather convenient nowadays to convey the message that virtually anyone who has a paedophilic inclination, or has experienced paedophilic feelings towards a child, must necessarily be an emotionally retarded loner. To concede that paedophilia does not necessarily make one “retarded”, either emotionally or on any other level, would attribute a certain degree of “normality” to paedophilic inclinations. There is always a risk that the public may suspect that the game is not being fairly played, and that this suggested “degree of normality” clearly clashes against the modern crusade that sees all adult-child relationships as suspicious. The mere suggestion of normality would make the crusaders’ stances reek more and more of propaganda, and less of legitimacy. Far from being emotionally retarded, Lewis Carroll “had a passionate orchestra playing within his breast”, as Morton N. Cohen has perceptively remarked.

Lewis Carroll did what he enjoyed doing and he could see nothing wrong in anything he did, because there simply was nothing wrong or “strange” or “unhealthy” about him. It’s not a matter of “Victorian social sensitivities” as the apologists (scholars included) nowadays claim, rather it is a matter of what he was and what he was not: he was not dark, he was not sinister. He was not then, he is not now.

Is this what you call, living a repressed life?

Similarly deluded are those Carrollians engaged in a (puerile and rather boring, if you ask me) battle for the affirmation of an appreciation for the companionship of children, on the part of Lewis Carroll, that was absolutely free from any paedophilic implications. Whereas I could, on a good day, be willing to make an effort to try and understand the reasons of those “fans” who evidently sleep better at night if they know that their literary “hero” was as far from being a paedophile as anything could be, I most certainly am not as merciful with “experts”, who have spent decades researching the life of Lewis Carroll. If the former are naive, the latter are likely to be intellectually dishonest.

I am absolutely sure Tom was perfectly aware of the fact that Lewis Carroll was being humorous when, in an attempt to amuse a child, he reassured her that he indeed was “fond of children, except boys”. I bet any girl would rightly giggle at that!

But was it just humour?

To say that he would spend more time with girls because girls were what he would find at home while boys were in school, is deluded at best, outright dishonest at worst. Such an openly misleading remark would convince no one except perhaps a naive audience longing to be reassured that Lewis Carroll was not a “child molester”. Furthermore, by rejecting allegations of paedophilia, the speaker is implicitly conveying the message that all erotic fascination with children is unacceptable, and therefore resisting the idea that paedophilia could be a sexual orientation with a legitimate place in the complex universe of human sexuality.

For most of his life, Lewis Carroll was actively and relentlessly seeking the companionship of girls, writing letters to girls, pleading mothers to bring girls along, asking permission to take girls out, simply because that’s where he derived his emotional satisfaction. It’s not that he went to this or that home and had to be content with what he found there, namely girls. There was a component with girls – emotional, romantic, and possibly erotic, why not? – that was just not there with boys. The fact that Lewis Carroll was most certainly celibate is no evidence that he never experienced a paedophilic attraction. Rather it is evidence of his stern rules of behaviour, and what he believed to be moral rectitude.

To claim that Lewis Carroll’s pursuit of child friendships equalled that of your average Victorian gentleman is nonsense. While it is true that Victorian attitudes towards children in general, and child friendships in particular, were certainly very different from ours, it is also true that it would have been quite unusual, even in those times, for a Victorian gentleman to engage in a relentless, life-long pursuit of friendships with little girls.

To claim that Lewis Carroll could not have been a paedophile because he was able to appreciate the beauty of the adult female form, is sadly unconvincing. There is no indication that one who has paedophilic inclinations cannot, at the same time, be attracted to adults, let alone recognise and appreciate the beauty of the human form.

Finally, to claim that Lewis Carroll did not have an appreciation for the company of girls that largely surpassed that of any man or woman of his times because, in his later years, he seemed to enjoy the company of adults as well, or even more, is frankly risible. Far from persuading me that there was “absolutely nothing even remotely paedophilic” in the man’s proclivities, it is evidence of that “degree of normality” in paedophilia that has been suggested before. In other words, that there is nothing, in an individual who has paedophilic inclinations, that will prevent him or her from being intellectually sophisticated, emotionally stable, fully psychologically developed, and socially acceptable.

In conclusion, the real obstacle to an open and frank discussion about Lewis Carroll seems to me to depend upon a reluctance to admit that there might be nothing inherently harmful in paedophilia, and that there is nothing, in paedophilic inclinations, that may prevent an individual from positively contributing to the greater good. In other words, that paedophiles as well can be a force for good in society.

All his life, Charles L. Dodgson cared for and looked after people, including attending to those in need as well as relatives, and providing financial support well beyond his obligations. In his dealings with child-friends he would make sure that the child was more than happy with anything he proposed, otherwise he would step back. He was forward-thinking in many respects: he wrote numerous pamphlets, including one pleading for the construction of a Women’s University, as he believed women were equally entitled to a higher education.

Very likely he experienced obvious difficulties. Very likely he experienced frustration. Very likely he experienced disappointment. Very likely he experienced loneliness. Still he was a creative genius who would always make sure that all of his magical gifts were shared with others, friends and strangers alike. His whimsical, immortal genius has continued to amuse and inspire generation after generation of readers, up to this day. If that’s not a beneficial contribution to society, what is? If he is not an example to truly look up to, who is?

Author Will Self has recently expressed concern over the creator of Alice in Wonderland: “It’s a problem, isn’t it, when somebody writes a great book and they’re not a great person?”

According to the dominant cultural climate, anyone who experiences an attraction to children, must automatically be “not great people”. To even suggest otherwise invites reprimand and suspicion. To suggest that paedophilia may simply be a natural variant in the diversity of human sexuality, could rightly be described, theologically speaking, as a newfound “scandal of the Cross”: an idea that is so radical, that it can only be perceived as scandalous.

According to some, Lewis Carroll had such “dark side”. But let me challenge the status quo: why must this side be dark? Why can’t it be bright, instead? And why can’t you be just as great if you have it?

Lewis Carroll was anything but dark. He was not only a decent person – he was indeed what you would describe as “great”.

Then where do these allegations of a “dark side” originate from?

They very likely stem from the unwillingness to accept the idea that the same individual who experiences an attraction to children (whether this be romantic, emotional, psychological, erotic – or all of these combined) can, at the same time, be the one who will go to great lengths to ensure that a child’s wellbeing is a priority, and who naturally has a child’s best interest at heart.

Just as Lewis Carroll had.

 

SMEAR CAMPAIGN REACHES NEW LOW

In “An Idiot’s Guide to the Westminster Bubble” last month, Heretic TOC reported on a couple of events in parliament, one of which was a rally by Hacked Off, a group which aims to secure a more independent press complaints body than the toothless old Press Complaints Commission and the equally non-scary watchdog the press barons are presently trying to replace it with, an outfit laughably called the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).

In their efforts to smear Hacked Off, the Mail on Sunday, owned by one of the said barons, Lord Rothermere, has run a story highlighting the presence at the meeting of someone who would be, in their words, “an embarrassment” for the group. Who was that person? Well, it was someone who had been an activist in an organisation “formed in 1974 to campaign for sex with children to be legalised”. Yes, you’ve guessed it: they were talking about thoroughly embarrassing yours truly! See here for their mighty scoop, which mentions this blog albeit without doing the courtesy of giving the name or a link.

Which is to be master – that’s all

88 Comments

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”

Grumpy Mr Dumpty was right, unfortunately. Take the word “paedophilia”. All the queen’s horses and all the queen’s men couldn’t put it back together again in its earlier queen’s English usage as a relatively objective medical term for sexual attraction to children. Admittedly, the man who first used the term paedophilia erotica*, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, was blatantly moralistic in denouncing the “unmanly, knavish and often silly” expression of such feelings; but a century or so would pass before we learned which was to be the master meaning, and who would make it so, when tabloid interpretation brutally bound the word hand and foot to sadism and murder, ruthlessly gagging gentler understandings, choking them off.

So, when I heard Andrew Marr presenting BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week discussion on Lewis Carroll and the Story of Alice on Monday, I was not surprised to hear him say that Alice in Wonderland and its later companion volume Through the Looking-Glass (from whence comes the Humpty Dumpty passage above) are “meant to be playful and to make you laugh, which is one of the answers to the whole paedophilia worry: something so playful, so funny, is unlikely to be that sinister”.

Paedophilia in this construction is sinister. The logic then proceeds thus: playfulness is not sinister; Carroll is playful; therefore Carroll is not sinister – and cannot be a paedophile. I have cheated a bit: Marr said the sinister side was unlikely rather than impossible, but it is clear he wants to exonerate Carroll from the more defamatory connotations of the P word.

Quite right too.

Not that Marr or his guests were in denial over Carroll’s sexual attraction to little girls, in what turned out to be a rather good programme to mark the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland’s publication in 1865. Gillian Beer, who has edited Carroll’s nonsense poems and will be bringing out a volume on the Alice books later this year, spoke with exquisitely tactful precision. Speaking with Alice Liddell in mind, the real little girl who inspired the wonderland books, she said:

“I think that the figure of Alice in Alice in Wonderland is a part answer to any suggestion of damage to the children… she is so appreciated as a lively, imaginative curious, independent young girl and she is treated with such respect, as it were, by the book; yes, she is teased, yes, she is worsted, but she is absolutely…

Marr interrupts: “But she isn’t objectified?”

…no, never. It’s always told, indeed, from within her, so that it’s her sensibility we’re sharing, and it’s her sense of terror, sometimes that is informing everything we read there.”

Beer is in effect confirming points raised elsewhere in the programme: Carroll was in love with Alice and probably got into trouble with her mother for being overly affectionate towards the child; but this essentially paedophilic behaviour was not a source of damage.

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, whose book The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland has just been published, was also a Marr guest. His book, one reviewer notes, draws attention to Carroll’s having written “A girl of about 12 is my ideal beauty of form.” Also, asked if children ever bored him, he replied: “They are three-fourths of my life.”

Carroll, whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, was an Oxford mathematics don. The picture that emerges from Douglas-Fairhurst’s book, according to a review in the Observer, is that he photographed Alice Liddell “obsessively” and was “evidently in love” with her. Alice was born in 1852. Already, from 1858 to 1862, “Dodgson’s peculiar intimacy with Miss Liddell had become the subject of intense Oxford gossip, with suggestions that the strange young Christ Church don had even proposed marriage and been rebuffed by the girl’s parents”.

The marriage proposal sounds like the Victorians’ idea of a joke; but the mere fact that there was intense gossip about the relationship refutes the modern deniers’ claim that Dodgson’s “sentimental” or “paternal” attachment to Alice was considered unremarkable in its day. Most Victorian gentlemen did not hang out with prepubescent girls; nor did they – as Dodgson did – remain lifelong bachelors. There were other girls, too, who at various times in his life occupied a special place in Mr Dodgson’s affections, to whom he wrote copious letters and whom he photographed extensively, sometimes in nude poses – photos which, as Marr’s programme noted, could not be used in Douglas-Fairhurst’s book for fear they might now fall foul of the law.

The letters, the photos and much else have long been the subject of biographic attention, perhaps most assiduously in the case of Morton N. Cohen’s 1995 book Lewis Carroll: A Biography. In an essay for the Times Literary Supplement in 2004 (“When love was young”, TLS, 10 September 2004) Cohen took issue with a “revisionist” voice, that of Karoline Leach, one of a growing band of writers who seek to rescue the author of Alice from the taint of paedophilia by contriving desperately improbable alternative narratives. Dodgson was no dodgy don, she insists: he was in love not with Alice but with her governess, a Miss Mary Prickett.

I will not waste time on this absurdity, except to say that Cohen’s demolition is strong.

His critique of Edward Wakeling, a far more substantial Dodgson scholar, is also devastating in my view. Wakeling, a Dodgson devotee for decades and a past Chairman of the Lewis Carroll Society, certainly knows his stuff and indeed has presented a lot of it on a website, including a database of the great man’s surviving letters and photos. I am assured by a Lewis Carroll Society insider who knows Wakeling personally that he is privately willing to admit Dodgson’s interest in girls had its erotic side. But it seems he feels duty-bound to protect the man’s reputation in public. As with Marr and his guests, that is a good thing if one wishes to insist upon him having been kind and considerate, rather than callously abusive; but, in Cohen’s opinion and mine, he goes much too far in trying to explain inconvenient facts away when these have a direct bearing on Dodgson’s sexual desires and even his behaviour.

In the same TLS article in which he took Leach apart, Cohen also tackled Wakeling. As the editor at that time of the latest and fullest version of Dodgson’s diaries, Wakeling had suggested that Dodgson’s interest in girls had been merely paternal. If so, why was there a falling out between the Liddell family and Dodgson in June 1863? Pages from his diary for this period, which might have explained the matter, were cut out and never recovered. Wakeling plays the rift down as unimportant, saying it lasted only “a few weeks”; but Cohen shows this “few weeks” lasted from 27 June to 19 December, almost half a year (25 weeks) when Dodgson was unable to see his beloved Alice, or her sisters.

Cohen also points out that in addition to this blatant minimisation, Wakeling ignored an important letter that Lorina, Alice’s older sister, sent to Alice in 1930 when they were both elderly. Lorina was reporting a meeting with an early Dodgson biographer, Florence Becker Lennon. Lorina wrote:

“I said his manner became too affectionate to you as you grew older and that mother spoke to him about it, and that offended him so he ceased coming to visit us again – as one had to find some reason for all intercourse ceasing…Mr D. used to take you on his knee…I did not say that.”

By this time Alice would have been 11. Girls typically did not reach menarche in those days until around 14 to 17 – much later than now. So in all probability she was still physically very much a child. On the other hand, the age of consent in those days was 12. Small wonder Mrs Liddell was vigilant, given that Alice, child or not, would soon be “legal”! Having said this, though, it may be that the rift was caused by Mrs Liddell finding out that Dodgson was becoming too close to Lorina as well, an intimacy we shall see hinted at below.

However that may be, Cohen’s revelations have done little to stem the public demand for an innocent Dodgson, along with our ever more strident insistence upon childhood innocence. And Wakeling has proved ever the man to supply that demand in a plausible, but to my mind deliberately misleading, manner. For the 150th anniversary, he has come up with a book called Lewis Carroll: The Man and His Circle, which looks at the writer through his social circle, which included royalty, musicians, publishers and artists. Yes, as he points out, Dodgson was a sophisticated character at ease in adult company; he was not an oddball loner, as some have suggested, who could relate only to children.

But so what? Wakeling implies that such sophistication was incompatible with paedophilia, which is simply false. It wouldn’t play too well as an excuse in a modern criminal court, would it?

“It is true, Your Honour, that images of children depicted in, ahem, somewhat carnal disport, were found on my client’s computer; but he also did a lot of excellent still life photography, fruit arranged in bowls, that sort of thing. Clearly, he is a cultured individual whose motives are artistic, not prurient…”

As for Wakeling’s elaborate charts of Dodgson’s letters and photographs, they appear designed to downplay the child theme by generating a bigger context: there were a vast number of letters to adults (albeit many to parents of his child friends) as well as to children; around 60% of his known photos of individuals were of children, but that still leaves a chunky 40% that were of adult subjects, and he did landscapes, etc., as well. What this ignores is the missing diary pages (whole volumes of his diaries are missing too), plus Dodgson’s letters to Alice Liddell, burnt by her mother, and a great many letters and photos destroyed or lost (only about 1,000 photos remain out of 3,000 he is known to have taken), probably by Dodgson’s heirs and possibly even by an early biographer: an obvious reason for disposing of such material would have been its embarrassing or even incriminating nature.

Wakeling’s technique seems to be to throw up a smoke screen of genuinely well researched scholarly detail in the hope that readers will be too impressed to notice its irrelevance. If Dodgson were on trial today over his “indecent” photos, Wakeling’s style of defence would cut no ice with the judge, as noted above; the jury wouldn’t buy it either.

But his actual jury is far more generous: his jurors are all the Alice fans out there, millions of them around the globe, many of them desperate to believe in Dodgson’s innocence and keen to read books in which it is asserted. I found myself among a hundred or more last week when Wakeling spoke to the Oxford Literary Festival about his new book, along with Vanessa Tait, grand daughter of Alice Liddell, no less, who was talking about her forthcoming Alice-themed novel The Looking-Glass House.

The event was held in the 15th century Divinity School beneath Oxford University’s ancient Bodleian Library, a magnificently ornate and august setting right in the very heart of Dodgson City, as it were. Not wanting to be run out of town by angry Carolingians (the noun being from Charles Dodgson, not from Lewis Carroll), I thought it best not to be too blunt when I asked a question from the floor. With an air of perhaps not entirely convincing innocence, I mildly pointed out that Dodgson had once written ”I’m fond of children (except boys)”. Would the speakers care to comment?

Up to that point I sensed a certain anxiety on the platform. Presenter Alastair Niven, a literary critic, invited questions afterwards from anyone who might “dare” to ask them. When I asked mine, Wakeling’s eyes positively sparkled with what may have been delight but I suspect it was relief, along the lines, “Oh, good, I can handle this one without things getting nasty”.

His answer was blandly reassuring: just Dodgson’s dry humour; friendly towards boys too; took about 100 photos of them; boys were usually at school when he went calling; girls in those days stayed at home, so he saw more of them. Ergo, Dodgson not dodgy. Simple!

But Vanessa Tait, who distinctly resembles her famous forebear Alice Liddell, was by no means as simplistic in her own response, and turned out to be distinctly at odds with Wakeling when someone asked what the pair of them thought of the BBC’s 150th anniversary documentary, aired in January and titled The Secret World of Lewis Carroll. Whereas Wakeling professed himself outraged by the programme, Tait seemed quite happy with it.

Presented by current affairs broadcaster Martha Kearney, the documentary was to a great extent a fan piece, actually. As a child, Kearney tells us, she took the role of Alice in a stage production of Alice Through the Looking-Glass in the village where she grew up. She loved the Alice books at that time and has been a Carroll devotee ever since.

Unlike Wakeling, though, she seemed keen to explore the truth about Dodgson’s desires. For her, this turned out to mean confronting a photo she said no respectable Victorian mother would have approved of. A nude photo of a little girl might have been acceptable in those days, but not one of a sexually maturing 14-year-old. Just such a photo, labelled “Lorina Liddell” on the back and attributed to “L. Carroll”, was discovered by the programme makers in a museum in far-off Marseilles. The overall conclusion, drawing on experts in photography and face identification, was that it was probably authentic.

Wakeling, who had long known about this photo, was having none of it. The experts’ opinions proved nothing, he insisted. His ire, though, was chiefly directed at the programme makers for failing to ask his own opinion, as though that would have settled the matter! However, when he had the opportunity in Oxford to do just that, he said nothing that I found even remotely persuasive. He did not even mention the inscription, much less refute its authenticity! His silence on this crucial evidence suggested to me he had nothing meaningful to say about the meaning of this photograph. All we learned was that he gets rather cross when anyone disputes his self-proclaimed magisterial authority!

A bit like Humpty Dumpty in fact: the photo means just what he chooses it to mean – neither more nor less. It’s all about which – or who – is to be the master.

*In the first version of this blog I wrongly said he introduced the term in 1886. That was when the first edition of his book Psychopathia Sexualis appeared. However, the term paedophilia erotica did not appear until the 12th edition, in 1912. I should have remembered my blog of 15 November last year in which this was mentioned. The term was included in the “Psychopathological Cases” section of Chapter Five, on sexual crimes. Oops, still not right! As Filip has kindly pointed out, in the comments below, there appears to have been at least a very brief mention of the term in the 10th edition, published in 1898.

PROUD TO BE A PAEDOPHILE

The GlobalPost, an online news outfit based in Boston, Mass., but not owned by the Boston Globe newspaper group, ran two big articles last month arising from the “sex abuse crisis” in Britain. They were filed by Corinne Purtill, an American reporter who is GlobalPost’s correspondent based in London. The more general article of the two adopts an uncritical approach, in which the events in Britain are viewed as a real crisis over actual “abuse”, rather than a moral panic over alleged abuse.

The other article is based on a phone interview with me. My initial response was that it is as bad as the general piece, mainly because it quotes me out of context: what I said was backed up by references to research, such as the work of Rind, Clancy and others; but these supporting authorities are deleted, so I probably come across as an obsessive crank. However, a number of other people have said they thought this article was quite good.

You can see for yourself, and make up your own mind:

The child sex abuse scandals engulfing Britain“:

And:

This man is a pedophile, and proud of it

Inadmissible Testimony

486 Comments

I always knew my lengthy interview in July for an upcoming TV documentary might go unused, even though the company making it, Testimony Films, made a considerable investment in my appearance. They gave me two nights’ hotel accommodation and other expenses, and committed a five-strong production crew to an entire day’s filming and studio hire in London, over 100 miles from their Bristol base, solely for my input.

A couple of weeks ago, as briefly reported here in response to a request for a progress report, I said I had received an email from Testimony saying “As this is such a difficult and controversial subject it is taking a very long time to make – and to go through the [name of TV channel] system. There have been several discussions with the [name of TV channel] lawyer over the content. The final shape of the programme still hasn’t been decided. There is no transmission date as yet.”

I was under a commitment not to name the TV channel until the last week before transmission. That time is now up. I now know that the programme, titled The Paedophile Next Door, is to be aired next Tuesday, 25 November, at 9pm on Britain’s Channel 4. I have been informed it will not contain any footage of the interview I gave, which lasted around two and a half hours.

This is disappointing, but I would not be particularly upset if I thought it was going to be a good programme anyway. I always hoped that if my contribution proved a bit too controversial for Channel 4 they might nevertheless be willing to give a platform to someone like Judith Levine, or Bruce Rind, or a British academic such as Glenn Wilson, who put up a spirited if all-too-brief showing on the same channel’s news output recently: PIE spy, with my tabloid eye…

All the signs are, though, that the programme will not be good. From a heretical standpoint it looks like being far worse than I had expected, indeed such an utter disaster I am feeling totally gutted even before seeing it. Am I prejudging too much? We’ll soon see.

I suspect Testimony are embarrassed. It seems they wanted to keep me in the dark as long as possible in case I went public too early and tried to derail things. Unbeknown to me, Channel 4 issued a bulletin about the upcoming programme on the 7th of this month, including its release date. But on the 10th, three days later, in response to my enquiries, Testimony were telling me there was still no release date and did not give me C4’s programme information.

The Testimony people have been very friendly and they definitely did not set out with the cynical intention of setting me up as a pantomime villain. Director Steve Humphries has a strong reputation as a documentary maker with an interest in a diversity of voices. He gives every impression of being a man of broad sympathies; his interview style is empathetic.

It is possible Channel 4 insisted on taking the production in another direction from the one first envisaged by Humphries. It may be significant that a second director’s name is now on the credits: Rudolph Herzog, son of the world renowned Werner Herzog. Herzog fils appears to be based in Germany, with no obvious connection to Testimony. His location, however, would make him well placed to explore Germany’s Prevention Project Dunkelfeld, highlighted in Jon Henley’s feature article on paedophilia for the Guardian last year.

Channel 4’s programme information begins thus:

With almost every passing week a new child sex abuse scandal breaks. In this sobering and thought-provoking film, historian and acclaimed social documentary maker Steve Humphries sets out to discover why all the elaborate policies and legislation put in place to protect children from sexual abuse have failed.

He discovers some radical new solutions proposed by an increasing number of child protection experts which challenge our deep-rooted attitudes and emotional reactions to paedophiles. They tell Humphries that many paedophiles live in our midst and go completely undetected. “They’re not monsters with horns and tails, but ordinary blokes,” says senior lecturer Dr Sarah Goode – and this makes them so dangerous and difficult to identify. Controversially, Dr Goode believes that the most promising way to reduce the number of child abuse cases is to encourage paedophiles who have not yet targeted children to “come out” and receive treatment.

This theory is supported by an extraordinary interview in which Humphries meets a man face-to-face who confesses, on camera, to his strong sexual attraction for children as young as five. He claims that he has not interfered with a child, nor could ever imagining doing so. He is so desperate for help that he is prepared to ‘out’ himself in the hope that men like him will be more readily offered support to manage their unwanted desires.

Paedophiles are the most vilified of all criminals – invoking universal hatred and disgust. Humphries hears from experts who explain that, as a result, the fear, self-loathing and stress paedophiles will associate with their desires makes them actually more likely to offend. Humphries explores pioneering schemes and initiatives designed to help paedophiles before they might hurt children. These ground-breaking schemes aim to educate families and encourage men to seek help – some of them provide residential support and treatment confidentially. Supporters of these initiatives believe they will keep children safe and are far more effective – rather than engaging with them only after they become offenders…

You get the picture. It looks as if this will be “virtuous” shit from start to finish. If I feel gutted, it is because the ideology of repression has won decisively in a direct contest with that of self-determination. I am gutted because I spilled my guts out for that interview and I know it was a good one, after a lot of preparation and an emotionally draining encounter with Humphries. It was all the tougher, oddly, thanks to his gently searching style. His kindness was killing. My answers could only come from the heart, at times painfully so when the questions reached deeply into the personal realm, – a place no aggressive inquisitor could touch; the defences would be up.

I’m not putting it too strongly when I say I feel betrayed, especially by the apparently central role given to Sarah Goode and her piss-poor thinking, which I believe I adequately demolished in my review of her book Paedophiles in Society and its predecessor – a review Humphries certainly knew about because I alerted him to it in an email back in May.

But to claim I have been betrayed by Testimony, or by Steve Humphries in particular, would be grossly unfair. I am confident Steve fought as hard as he could for my inclusion. That does not mean he shares my views, though, and I probably underestimated the extent to which he was keeping his cards close to his chest on that.

As for whether I really had performed strongly, was this just an illusion? Here’s the relevant part of what Steve emailed the next day:

I just wanted to say thanks so much for coming down for the filmed interview, which was as excellent and as powerful as I’d hoped it would be. I thought you told your personal story and stated your case as strongly as anyone could. I know the team…really enjoyed meeting you too and found it a moving and hugely interesting day…

A few days ago, “Bloom” wrote in the comments here “It would be interesting to get your take on the controversy over contact vs non-contact. Not so much on the question itself, which is somewhat abstract, but on how you see it affecting the overall struggle for greater tolerance and acceptance.”

First of all, I agree with another commentator, “Stephen6000”, that “pro-choice” is a better expression than “pro-contact”, although, it will be seen that I have opted above for “self-determination”, which avoids confusion with abortion. Also, I don’t think self-determination is too abstract, but what Bloom perhaps meant to say was too academic, as in the expression “it’s all a bit academic” i.e. it ain’t gonna happen anytime soon, so why bother talking about it?

If that was the intended meaning it undeniably amounts to a strong argument, not least in view of this Channel 4 programme: I tried to talk about sexual self-determination but who was listening? No one ever does these days. So what’s the point of banging on about it?

Presumably Bloom is pleased to see controversy over self-determination taken out of the equation by Channel 4. That leaves The Paedophile Next Door, and any similar presentation of MAPs, free to focus on “tolerance and acceptance”, right?

Well, sure, and that would be a good thing if it were taking us in the right direction. Politics is often characterised as the art of the possible. The way to reach an ultimate goal is to focus on small, incremental achievements. You don’t frighten the horses by seeming to be insanely radical.

I understand that. But what if those small steps are heading in the wrong direction, leading away from one’s ultimate objective? The “tolerance and acceptance” aimed at in VP efforts is not tolerance and acceptance of sexual self-determination, after all, but it’s exact opposite i.e. an outcome that cements intolerance and non-acceptance of sexual self-determination permanently in place and depends upon brainwashing and coercing MAPs into submission.

This represents a repudiation of all I believe in and I cannot support it.

I will watch the programme, though, through gritted teeth. As long as I am publicly engaged in blogging and such like, I feel I have a duty to keep myself informed. It will not be easy. One of those taking part, unless I am greatly mistaken, is Ian McFadyen, who is fast becoming a full-time professional victim. I don’t relish the thought of having to watch this self-righteous bully’s “dignified exchange”, as the programme info puts it, with a paedophilic self-sacrificial lamb.

McFadyen, to be sure, was genuinely the victim of a sadistic rapist on the staff of Caldicott Preparatory School if his story is true, and I have no particular reason to doubt it. As a result, it seems, he is now determined to victimise anyone who crosses him, including his old school pal Nick Clegg – yes, that Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat MP who has been deputy prime minister of the UK since 2010. McFadyen was recently quoted as saying, “I’m definitely really angry with Nick Clegg… he’s been a real disappointment. I’m actually ashamed to have gone to school with him.”

Gosh, you might wonder, what’s poor old Cleggie been up to now? Nothing illegal, it turns out, though it might be thought so from McFadyen’s wrath. It’s just that Clegg had failed to back McFadyen’s demand for a massive inquiry into historic sexual abuse. See what I mean about the “bully” thing?

McFadyen has plenty of reason to feel traumatised and angry, of course, and it behoves us heretics to advocate for a more open society (including more accountability in schools) so that dreadful experiences like his are not repeated. But it is characteristic of so-called sympathetic programmes, including this latest Channel 4 one, that their purported sympathy for non-active paedophiles tends to be yoked together with truly extreme and appalling cases of abuse. Far from increasing sympathy for the average paedophile, the likely outcome of this pairing is to crank up the fear of paedophilia to a heightened extreme, so that even the most virtuous VP will come under ever more intense suspicion and scrutiny – and insistence that they do not go anywhere near kids.

For a bit of realistic balance, we could do worse than turn to some recent revelations by TV personality and former Tory MP Gyles Brandreth. He told the Daily Mail a couple of months ago he had been “abused” by a choir master at his prep school.

“I suppose I liked him,” said Brandreth. “At least, I was flattered by his attention. I think I felt it was my due. I was 11, 12 and 13 when this was happening, and quite full of myself. Mr Harkness took lots of photographs of me. We both admired the results.”

Also:

“Has this experience of being a victim of child abuse had a lasting effect on me? I certainly don’t feel traumatised by it, nor even resentful. I did not complain then, and I am not complaining now.”

It is no accident, I feel, that neither Brandreth, nor anyone with a comparable experience, is being featured on the Channel 4 programme so far as I can tell. They wouldn’t want to spoil their “misery memoir” narrative with any happiness, would they?

We fight for more than Love or Pleasure

117 Comments

Heretic TOC presents a guest blog today from “Sylvie”, who has the unusual and possibly record-breaking distinction of having been openly an advocate of decriminalising consensual sexual relationships between adults and children since the age of 13, arguing the case passionately with friends, classmates, and even teachers! Her liberal parents, she tells me, were the kind of people who would keep a close eye on their child without interfering. What follows is part of an email I received recently from Sylvie. With her approval, it has been edited for this blog.  

I have wanted to write to you for a long time. I feel the time has now come. Many times l have tried to sit down and write but it seemed I just could not get my head around it as my story begins when l was 13 and me being 38 now, that’s quite a frightening length of time! To make a long story short: like you, l advocate for the decriminalisation of consensual sexual relationships between adults and children, and have relentlessly been doing so since l was 13. Does that make me the youngest activist who has ever lived? 🙂

I was an intellectual child, listening to classical composers at 8, reading Oscar Wilde at 10 and EM Forster at 11. I was fortunate enough to have parents who granted me unconditional freedom. Yet not everyone was as sensible so I sometimes ended up surrounded by adults who mistakenly took me for a “poser” claiming that, at my age, l could not really understand what l was reading. How pathetic are adults who belittle children! Truth is: my books were my best friends and literature has taught me more on the human condition than one could ever hope to learn in a lifetime without it; and l can assure you that not only could l understand everything l read as a child, but my understanding was real and deep.

One day – l was 13 by that time – upon returning home from school, l found this magazine and l learned that behind the story of the girl who falls down a rabbit hole was an Oxford don who went by the name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, and that this whimsical, magical man happened to be, among other things, a lover of children. For the first time in my life the words “paedophile” and “paedophilia” appeared before my eyes. It struck a powerful chord deep inside, and my path has been clear to me since that day. To me it just seemed OK to love children and l could see nothing wrong with it, provided no coercion was exercised. I vividly recall looking at the image of Lewis Carroll and thinking to myself these very words: “I like you”. That was the start of a lifelong friendship between Mr Dodgson and l.

It was also the start for me of my advocacy for the rights of paedophiles. Throughout the following year l researched the subject, growing more and more aware of the discrepancy between hysteria and reality, more and more indignant at the social stigma that affects paedophilia, forcing too many paedophiles into the darkness, making them unable to open up to anyone, with the dire consequences on many levels that this forced isolation brings about.

As I had always been interested in issues surrounding civil liberties, l had from time to time magazines at home that dealt with either women’s rights or gay rights. One day I noticed an ad in the Contact page of a gay magazine. In the ad it was stated that a pressure group called “Gruppo P” had been formed to promote discussion of intergenerational relationships and that anyone who was interested in joining was welcome to contact them. I immediately did. In my letter I explained that I was a 14-year-old, that I believed that consensual contacts between children and adults existed and could be desired by both parties, that such contacts did not necessarily result in harm, and that therefore this type of non-coercive relationships had to be decriminalised. I said I was willing to actively help and join the group.

Soon afterwards I received a letter from the group’s founder, asking me to contact him at his work phone number, which l did. In retrospect l now think he wanted to make sure that l was who l claimed l was. When l called him we agreed to meet.

I was not scared. All l wanted to do was to go out and march, head up high, banner in hand, for the advancement of our cause (how much l miss the naivety of youth!) Unfortunately l was too young to formally join (minimum age required was 16) so I remained on the sidelines, eagerly waiting for the day when l could become a full member. Sadly, that day never came as the police investigated Gruppo P. The founder phoned to let me know the police might pay me a visit, although he believed that as I was a young girl they would not try to pursue a case against me. He was right: they never came. Not that I was intimidated by the thought of encountering them. On the contrary, I was eager to meet the police so I could “preach” the legitimacy of our cause (such is the folly of youth!).

The founder was in due course arrested, accused of “conspiracy”. I can testify that there were absolutely no illegal activities inside Gruppo P. Its aims were not criminal but political. Nevertheless the founder and others were arrested and held in custody awaiting trial: evidently the coming together of dissidents who challenged the current laws was considered a crime in itself. As we who hold these beliefs well know, Orwell’s concept of “thought crime” becomes a reality where discussion of paedophilia is concerned.

I recall very well the innuendos that were made. It was put about that an enormous quantity of illegal material had been found, but no such material circulated at Gruppo P! It was claimed that members were actively seeking children to groom, but l for one had never been approached in a sexual way. I was always treated as an equal; no one tried to take advantage of me.

What l also recall is the ugly ostracism of Gruppo P by the gay organisations. The police raid made their dearest dream come true: get rid of paedophiles. The gays said they “abhorred” paedophilia, insisting that homosexuals stand for sexual liberation and paedophiles are opposed to it because they force themselves on individuals who cannot consent.

I wanted to appear in court as a defence witness, but the lawyers ignored me, and my friend was eventually found guilty of conspiracy. In the following years I have seen or heard of former activists who have grown disillusioned, gone underground, given up…. For me, it is something l will never get over. I have seen or heard of too many people living a death-in-life: I cannot accept it; I will never accept it, and it brings me anguish.

I have had your book Paedophilia: The Radical Case since 2003. I have always told myself that sooner or later I would contact you, and as soon as the PIE “scandal” came out this year, l googled your name and, voilà, I saw that you have a blog. [For the “scandal” see Paedogate puts the past in the pillory]

I agree with you that this reign of hysteria will eventually come to an end. You and l might not see it, but future generations will. It is for these future generations that we must now stand our ground. Refusing to be silenced is one way, and a dignified one at that. Familiarity is another: reaching out to people who are close enables us to help them see through this fog of lies surrounding paedophilia. l have always taken every opportunity to discuss the issue. I have never been afraid or ashamed to share my beliefs. A propaganda-fed mob might bay to see paedophiles hanging from a rope but individuals will listen. For almost 25 years now I have taken the time to sit down at a table with a friend, a colleague, or a stranger, and say something like, “Look, things are not exactly what they seem. Please, let me explain.”

I spoke from the heart and from the mind; through rationality, compassion, and truth, l had them listen, ponder, and challenge their prejudice. I saw people genuinely persuaded of the unjust treatment reserved for paedophiles. I saw people genuinely sorry. I saw people, including my own mother, grow indignant at injustice. And l always thought that if we can persuade them that they are all being lied to through toxic and hysterical propaganda, and that there are fellow humans in this world who are being persecuted for the simple reason that they exist, then there is hope that they will perceive the terrible injustice suffered by paedophiles, and no man or woman of good will can tolerate a modern witch-hunt without starting to question its legitimacy.

And through questioning comes change. Am l being overly optimistic? Maybe. But l refuse to be cynical. We must work to create a society where paedophiles can lead normal and productive lives, within the boundaries of the law. Paedophiles also need to be educated: it is not only immoral, but dangerous as well, to have people indoctrinated on a daily basis, stuffing the idea down their throats that they are “molesters”, that their affections and inclinations are nothing but a “disorder” to be treated. This is a lie, and we must fight it.

As EM Forster put it, “For we fight for more than Love or Pleasure; there is Truth. Truth counts, Truth does count.”

I am willing now as much as l have been for the past 25 years, to speak up for truth, and actively help in any way l can.

My greatest pride is that in my youth I was an independent thinker. My beliefs sprang from within, and these beliefs prompted me to reach out to like-minded people, in whose company l could share what mattered most to me. These are the people I am most grateful to have met, to this day.

Love is confoundedly complicated!

74 Comments

A lingering social death by contempt, humiliation and shame is the daunting prospect I face when I go ahead with my next planned blog in a few days’ time. It is not the enemy’s scorn I fear – the more resilient of us can live with that – but, far worse, that of my friends.

So, in a bid to ease the anticipated sting of your withering rebukes, I am going to use today’s Heretic TOC to set the scene in what I hope will be a disarming way. What appears below is a book review I wrote a few years ago for Berlin University’s Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology, which is now independent and known simply as the Archive for Sexology – a great resource, by the way: the Growing Up Sexually section is superb on childhood sexual acculturation beyond the modern developed world.

The review is of a memoir by Margaux Fragoso, who had a long childhood relationship with a paedophile. I briefly mentioned this book once before in The consequences of consequentialism last year, a piece which might particularly interest those heretics here of a philosophical bent.

As for why my next blog could be a source of such utter mortification to me, and why the review is relevant, you’ll just have to wait and see!

 

Margaux Fragoso, Tiger, Tiger: A Memoir, Penguin, London, 2011

Seven-year-old Margaux sees a grey-haired old man at the local swimming pool. Two little boys are frolicking with him in the water. The three of them are having great fun, whereas she has no playmates. Her mentally ill mother is sitting at the poolside; her father, an emotionally abusive alcoholic, is not around.

Quickly sensing the man must be an exceptionally friendly adult, she approaches.

“Can I play with you?” she asks.

“Of course,” he answers, playfully splashing her face.

It is the start of a relationship that almost immediately becomes sexual, in ways graphically described; it continues as romantic through her teens and ends only when his death parts them after fifteen years. She tells of being in love, “addicted” to her elderly lover’s company; of her lover, she says, “I was his religion”.

The echo of Nabokov’s Lolita is clear, with its famously rapturous opening paean to a beloved “nymphet”; but Tiger, Tiger is billed as a memoir, not fiction – and certainly not a work of paedophilic pornography, or propaganda, as might otherwise be suspected from my introduction. Even though it reads like a novel, author Margaux Fragoso has been at pains to insist, in the face of reviewers’ scepticism, that it is a faithful record of a well documented relationship with Peter Curran, a hard-up, long-term unemployed invalid and girl-oriented paedophile, who committed suicide at age 66, when she was 22. He had not been sexually interested in the boys at the pool, who were the sons of his landlady-cum-not-quite-girlfriend: he was just good with them anyway.

Although a whole clutch of memoirs, especially in the “misery lit” genre, have been exposed as fake in recent years, Tiger, Tiger strikes me as the real thing. It is clearly not written as pornography, because the sexual descriptions are utterly unsexy: while Fragoso portrays herself as a willing, and at times even a demanding, participant in under-age sexual acts, her own lively sexuality is always at odds with the sense of grossness and disgust she feels towards the wrinkled, decrepit body of her aging lover and the whore’s repertoire of tricks and role plays he nags her into performing.

Nor can she be accused of propagandising in favour of a child’s ability to consent to sex with an adult. Ultimately, the author is plainly of the opinion that the relationship was harmful to her in many ways, and that men like Peter need treatment.

As a paedophile myself, throughout my adult life I have resisted all the conventional arguments against children’s willing participation in sexual contacts with adults, especially when the older party is affectionate and loving. None of these arguments, or the evidence adduced in their support, has ever made much impression on me. I have even written books saying exactly why they are unconvincing.

But I find Fragoso’s work is strikingly more effective than all the usual moralising, with vastly more persuasive clout than the endless plethora of one-sided and even dishonest victim narratives so beloved of our cultural media, from tabloid yarns to TV documentaries, to films and novels. Tiger, Tiger is an immensely powerful testament. I am in my mid-sixties, with a typical old dog’s shortcomings over learning new tricks; but Fragoso is making me think again.

How so? What is the source of this extraordinary power? It is simply that Fragoso’s account is not one-sided. Tiger, Tiger comes across as a determined attempt by the author to examine all aspects of her relationship with Peter with the utmost candour, and calm honesty. Rather than simply vilifying and demonising him, “letting out the anger”, as “survivors” are often encouraged to do, she strives for an objective, almost scientific, description of how things came to pass, her feelings at the time and what they led to. In an Afterword, she speaks of having “learned through my writing”: through pondering, and describing, she leads both herself and the reader towards a reasoned assessment.

It is also a balanced and fair one. We are told, for instance, not just that Peter could be violent and was often “pushy” in his sexual demands. No, we are additionally told that far from being “innocent”, little Margaux as a child could be calculating and manipulative, and she spells out exactly how. Ultimately, of course, there is no moral equivalence: the adult must take responsibility.

The author’s judicious even-handedness is what makes Tiger, Tiger such a stand-out from the many hundreds of learned journal articles and books I have read on adult-child sexual encounters. For me, this is one of the most impressive and important of the lot. As a set text for reading and discussion by participants in sex offender treatment programmes I suspect it would be more successful in helping reduce recidivism than the crude brain-washing usually served up.

The only caveat to my recommendation – but it is an important one – is that there are severe constraints on what can reasonably be concluded from any one account. Fragoso herself makes two major mistakes: she over-interprets what can be learned from her own experience, and then over-generalises these questionable conclusions, seeking to apply them invalidly to all child-adult sexual contacts. To take the second point first, a properly scientific account demands the investigation of hundreds, indeed preferably thousands, of cases before general statements can be made with any confidence, and even then effects associated with the data do not necessarily reveal a particular cause. I suspect Fragoso would be surprised to learn that the most rigorous statistical studies of the available evidence do not support the conventional view that such contacts are in general very harmful.

On the first point, there are many ways in which the book leads the reader towards the view that the relationship with Peter was deeply traumatic: to take the most serious of these, the sexual side compromised her, making her feel she was “corrupted” and that others would regard her as worthless. Even the “romantic” aspect was awful because it locked her for year after year into emotional dependency on a partner who had no future, and whose attentions kept her unhealthily alienated from her peers – which may have been why, in a belated act of redemption, Peter ultimately killed himself, setting her free at last.

While these terrible facts are undeniable, what the author’s own conclusions ignore is the serious possibility that without Peter’s love and support her life might well have been even worse. It was her father, after all, not Peter, who would habitually rant and scream at her, telling her she was a worthless burden, before she had even met Peter. Her response as a small child had understandably been one of aggressive “acting out”: she would randomly kick other people in the street. After meeting Peter, she transferred that aggression to him, lying and playing mean tricks on him. His reaction, by contrast, was generally one of patient, almost saintly restraint: Margaux’s admittedly delusional mother even thought he might be a reincarnation of Jesus, “so wise” was he, “and pure of heart”. The presumably non-delusional author would commend his consistent support for her creative side, and the praise he habitually lavished on her, boosting the self-worth so sapped by her father.

So, as one feminist reviewer grudgingly conceded, “it’s complicated”. In terms of what caused the bad outcomes in her life, a scientist would have to note that there were “confounds”: in other words, there were other factors apart from having an early sexual relationship that could account, wholly or in part, for all that went wrong.

And, hey, despite the extremely unpromising start of having two massively unsatisfactory parents, a lot eventually went right for Fragoso. She is now a best-selling writer, after all, as well as being in a stable adult partnership which has seen her become a mother. These successes might have come despite Peter’s role in her life or thanks to it: those confounded confounds make it hard to tell which.

Ultimately, though, Tiger, Tiger should be judged not as a failed work of “scientific” self-observation, nor in literary terms as an inferior imitation of Nabokov, as some critics have maintained. Her style and subject matter admittedly invite comparisons with the celebrated novelist, but we must remember that this work is a memoir, not a novel. As such, it is simply an apparently honest account that does far more justice to the complexity of the issues than most of the “child sexual abuse” literature.

 

MILESTONE

One other thing, a milestone worth noting in passing: there have been over 100 comments in response to the last blog, Hail to a hero of ‘transgressive expression’, largely on account of some very lively discussion prompted by young “adultophile” James. That’s three figures for the first time. Great, keep it coming on future topics!

Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: